So some Evangelical leaders (from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) gathered in Nashville and hammered out a statement (NS) on Christianity and human sexuality, and not even conservative Evangelicals are altogether happy with it. Part of the problem, according to the Washington Post, was the feeling that Evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump lost their standing to speak on sexual morality.
Well, that’s a fair point. If you’re going to vote for a man who boasts about where he’s grabbing them, you’re in no position to be rebuking gay people about their sexual activities.
The Post goes into some other detail, not entirely interesting for my purposes. I want to go through a couple of the articles in the NS and pick apart a few of the theological errors I find. This is not just academic.
• Article I describes marriage as “covenantal”; which is true, but you are not going far enough unless you also say that marriage (for the baptized, at any rate) is sacramental.
Marriage is not merely a sign of Christ’s love for the Church, but it is meant to help save us. It gives saving grace. (Christ alone saves, but he acts through the sacrament.) Husband and wife “help one another to attain holiness,” as the Catechism puts it (1641)
• Article II says that God’s purpose is “chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage.”
Okay, I know what they mean. But God’s purpose is chastity outside and inside marriage. “Chastity” does not mean “having no sex.” The word NS is looking for is “celibacy.” A man who has sex with his wife, and his wife only, is practicing chastity. Fidelity to one’s spouse is not some different thing from chastity.
• Article VII “den[ies] that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
The problem here is with the word “adopting.” It is as though the authors of NS believe that a “homosexual or transgender self-conception” is chosen. That’s disputable, to be nice about it. It is gravely disordered, yes. But to imply that is chosen in anyone’s case, and not instead the result of concupiscence, or a psychological condition, is unjust. It lacks compassion. It implies a culpability that may not be present. No one can judge such things except God.
Perhaps I suffer from a gluttonous desire for candy. I didn’t choose this; I have it. It’s disordered, yes. But I did not “adopt a gluttonous self-conception.” No more does someone with same-sex attraction “adopt a homosexual self-conception.” That kind of talk needs to be abolished.
• Article VIII denies that individuals with SSA are “outside the hope of the gospel.”
And we can all be glad it says this. Good for the NS.
• Article IX says that “sin distorts sexual desires.”
Okay, sure. That is true–if you mean original sin, or concupiscence. And yes, this does include heterosexual sins as well as homosexual ones, so I am glad NS clarifies that.
• Article X says that to approve of “transgenderism” is a “departure from Christian witness.”
Here, the NS suffers from a failure to define terms. What does it mean by “transgenderism”? Does it mean a biological male who identifies as female? Or does it mean something else? If the former, then there is no question of “approving” or “disapproving” of this; it is a phenomenon that just is in the case of some biological males. Reasonable people, and reasonable Christians, can surely disagree with each other about what to do about such things, even while admiting that it was not part of God’s original design. The world we live in is not God’s original design. It’s just not. We can disagree about where to go from there.
• Article XI “den[ies] any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.”
Well, again, some examples of what NS would consider “dishonoring God’s design” would be helpful here. Does NS mean, “I’m going to call you he even if you believe you are she, because to do otherwise dishonors God”? Does NS mean, “There are no transgendered people; phoo, why, the very notion is dishonoring to God”?
Look, my compassion toward people who suffer brokenness is not dishonoring to God; my affirmation that their brokenness is part of who they are is not dishonoring to God. We are all broken, in one way or another. I don’t have to think it’s part of God’s original design. I don’t have to believe people should be free to engage in whatever self-destructive behavior they like. But telling someone who thinks he is a she that he is a he, damn it, I’m not going to dishonor God, might not be the best way to help. It might, in fact, be destructive. It might break even the broken pieces. Reasonable Christians can think this, and we don’t need to be told we are dishonoring God if that’s how we choose to love a brother or a sister. We can disagree about how to love.
• Article XII says that the grace of God helps us to “put to death sinful desires.”
No. No, no, and again no. Even after baptism, concupiscence remains. Sinful desires do not get “put to death.” Grace enables us to resist them; it does not eliminate them. Sinful desires, according to the Catechism, are “part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle.” (Jen Fitz has more about this on her blog Sticking the Corners.) And this matters. Someone who has SSA will likely always have SSA. It will be a cross every day. To give them false hope that, you know, if only you had grace enough, you could conquer that, is unbelievably cruel, however well-intentioned. That’s true whomever the sinner, whatever the sinful desire.
• Article XIII says “that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions.”
Again, this assumes, falsely, that people choose “transgender self-conceptions.” We can only forsake what we choose. Gender dysphoria is a psychological condition, just as much as bipolar disorder. The “grace of God in Christ” does not permit anyone to “forsake” being bipolar. I don’t deny that God can sometimes miraculously heal people of physical or psychological ailments. But “the grace of God in Christ” helps us to overcome the consequences of sin. Gender dysphoria is not a sin.
But other than those things…
The NS is not entirely lacking in truth, but it has very definite flaws, and I don’t think Catholics should be affirming it or signing it.